Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.
Dialect spellings, contractions, and discrepancies have been retained.
The Table of Contents was not printed in the book and has been created for the convenience of the reader.
THE HEART OF ARETHUSA
FRANCES BARTON FOX
With a Frontispiece by F. W. Read
Boston Small, Maynard and Company Publishers
Copyright, 1918 By Small, Maynard & Company (Incorporated)
GEORGE MADDEN MARTIN
Who found me young; full ignorant of the trade To which my soul aspired. So it was she made, With friendly kindness of a generous heart, Some of her busy hours to know still worthier aim; Seeing that I learned a trifle of the writing game. And in what I've written, she has had her part.
I XIV II XV III XVI IV XVII V XVIII VI XIX VII XX VIII XXI IX XXII X XXIII XI XXIV XII XV XIII
THE HEART OF ARETHUSA
At the end of a long, straight avenue of symmetrically developed water maple trees (the trunks of all the trees whitewashed to precisely the same height from the ground) the house gleamed creamy-white, directly facing the Pike. Its broad front door came exactly within the middle distance of this vista of maples, as though the long-ago builder had known that Miss Eliza's orderly soul would have suffered much unhappiness had it swerved a fraction from the centre and, looking forward to the time when she should rule at the Farm, had planned it all to save her the trouble of a change. Miss Eliza would have been sorely tempted to move either the house or the avenue, had not the front door been so placed as to be viewed from the exact middle of that avenue; such was her passion for neatness and precision.
And there was not a weed nor a ragged-looking patch of grass in the whole length of the brown dirt road between those evenly grown maples; nor a weed nor a ragged-looking patch of grass in the whole of the front yard, enclosed in its white board fence with the one flat board laid all around the top.
This was a board whose position and height from the ground had always made it irresistible to Arethusa. It had been one of the chief delights of an active childhood and adolescence to walk it as far as possible before falling off. The day she had negotiated the entire fence without once losing her balance, to return in triumph to the stile where Timothy awaited her, marked an epoch in her development; for it was the last stronghold of Timothy's achievements, as should properly distinguish the boy from the girl, which had thus far held out against her. And it was quite a long way around the top of that fence; the yard was large.
There was no gate into the yard. Those who came to call at the Farm on wheels stopped their vehicle at the end of the avenue outside, by the worn hitching-post with its iron chain and ring, and climbed an old-fashioned stile right from the carriage-block to a straight walk of bricks, laid in a queer criss-cross pattern, that led up to the house.
It was a low-built house, wide-flung, the eaves coming close down over the second-story windows: and one might almost have stepped from the windows of the first floor directly out on to the flagged walk that ran along the whole front. It had a curious appearance of having grown where it was. One could imagine, without very much effort, that it had not been built as were other houses, but had grown up gradually like some queer sort of solid plant.
The pillars of the small front porch were covered thick with a white clematis in full bloom, the pride of Miss Eliza's heart; and well might she be proud, for no other clematis for miles around ever bloomed so profusely or so largely. Flowers nodded gayly in the smallest of formal gardens at one end of the house and honeysuckle vines clambered over frames by the summer-house sheltering the cistern at the other end; but both vines and flowers climbed and nodded in the most orderly manner, for they were all Miss Eliza's plants.
The house was painted every other spring, painted this creamy-white, and it always seemed a cleaner white than any other white house in the country, no matter if those others were painted just as often. The outside shutters to the twinkling square-paned windows were green, a rich, dark green, that had not been changed since time began for the Farm. On the second day of May every other year (unless that day fell on Sunday) John Gibson drove out from town and began painting at the Farm. If it rained, he painted inside the porches first; but he put one coat of paint all over everything paintable before he was through. He always stayed out at the Farm until his work was done, and then he drove back to town again, to wait until the then two-years' distant second day of May should bring him back.
And everything that was done on the Farm was done in just such well-grooved ruts of habit.
* * * * *
It had been unbearably hot and close all day long.
The brazen, hard-blue sky had seemed to be pressing a blanket of thick, humid air closer and closer to the earth as if bent upon the suffocation of everything living. Everybody at the Farm had been sure it was brewing a storm. They had hoped a good rainstorm; and now ... It was almost come.
Down on the horizon the clouds were piling up in great black and dark grey masses, with here and there a lighter grey that showed ominously against its darker background; cloud masses shot through every now and then with an angry-looking red or orange flash that was immediately answered by a low rumble of ever nearing thunder.
The wind had risen, after this gasping day without a breath of air stirring anywhere, and now it blew refreshingly cold and clear almost directly from the north.
It flattened the long parched grass in the yard. It danced the leaves on the trees about so gayly and so madly as they turned their more prominently veined sides to view (which Arethusa knew was almost a sure indication of rain), it did not seem possible their slender stems could hold them to the bending and twisting branches. Indeed, some of them could not hold on and the wind gathered these up and carried them along with bits of twigs and grass to pile up in the fence corners and wait for that sorely needed drink of water there. A garden chair in front of the house rocked violently as though some restless ghost were occupying it and then overturned with a crash. The dust gathered up in the brown dirt road in great swirls and whirled away like miniature cyclone-clouds in their funnel shape towards the Pike to meet other swirls of a lighter dust and go whirling still farther away, until the wind grew tired of such sport and dropped them. The birds' nest in the north cornice which Miss Eliza had been after for weeks blew down, and the straw and bits of feathers were scattered all over the yard; but only to be caught again by the wind and carried on somewhere else. The green shutters on the house swung out on their fastenings as far as they could and then banged back against the house with a tiny crash of sound.
There seemed nothing that the wind overlooked. Even the clouds, as they piled higher and higher and blacker and blacker, had the appearance of being driven by the wind, nearer and nearer the Farm.
Arethusa ran out of the front door and down the long, flagged walk towards the quince bushes, far at the very end of the yard, to meet the storm. She held out her arms to the wind and drank in great deep breaths of its refreshing coolness. It tossed her skirts about her and blew the great rope of coppery red hair which ordinarily hung loosely plaited down her back so that it streamed straight out behind her just like a candle flame.
Of all the things that happened with which she was acquainted, Arethusa loved best a thunder-storm. She felt no slightest tinge of fear; to be out of doors in the wind and rain with thunder crashing and rolling and great flashes of lightning splitting wide the heavens, every now and then, left nothing to be desired towards the perfection of the situation. She had sometimes fancied, after an unusually wide and vivid flash, that she had really been able to see a wee bit of a way into that Heavenly City which she had been taught was high above her, behind all that sky, in the blinding brightness.
But Arethusa's aunts had altogether different ideas, not one of them (save perhaps Miss Asenath, somewhat) understanding in the least this strange and illogical desire to watch the play of the elements out of doors when she could be safe inside a house. It was always their very first move, when a storm was threatened, to bid her remain indoors.
To-day though, so far, the gods had seemed to be with her; she had escaped without being seen. And if her luck continued to hold, she might get clear away to Miss Asenath's Woods before her Aunt 'Liza caught her and haled her back. For they had not had such a glorious storm as this would be, if its promise were made good, for months and months.
There was a flash of lightning that seemed to play all about the girl running swiftly down the walk; a crash of thunder that seemed to make every window pane in the house rattle in echo, and a few, big, splashing drops of rain fell.
Arethusa stretched her arms high and stood on tiptoe to meet them. She shook her hair loose from its plait and threw back her head, loving it all—the wind and the dark sky and the tense feeling of readiness for the storm with which everything seemed charged—with an almost pagan joy. She even began a dance, a fantastic sort of lonely quadrille (if it could be given any special name), there on the flagged walk by the end of the house.
The call came very faint and far away.
Louder this time, and much nearer, but Arethusa heeded it not if she heard; her dance continued uninterrupted. She swayed like a tall lily to the wind, with a few little steps one way and then a few little steps the other; holding out her cotton skirts; her hair blown all about her like a great, red cloud. There was something elfin, something wild and woodsy, in her manner of dancing; the nymph whose name she bore might so have welcomed a storm in her woods of ancient Greece.
And Miss Eliza Redfield's own energetic little person, as trig and trim as a tiny ship with all sails closely reefed, even in this boisterous wind, bore down upon her niece. Miss Eliza's grey crown of glory, parted in the middle with precision and to the exactitude of a hair, was totally unruffled and remained drawn down across her forehead in smooth, satiny bands of an evenness and rigidity which no other hair, save Miss Eliza's, could possibly have.
She pushed her shiny glasses to the end of her sharp, little nose and over them surveyed the disheveled maiden before her.
"What are you doing?" she asked crisply.
Arethusa turned her glowing face to her aunt, but without pausing in her dance. "Oh, this glorious storm, Aunt 'Liza! I ..."
Miss Eliza waved her hand. "You need not answer. I can see quite plainly, for myself, it is something foolish. You should not be out here. Come on into the house, Arethusa. Your Aunt 'Titia and I and your Aunt 'Senath wish to talk to you. In the sitting-room."
"Oh, not right now, Aunt 'Liza, please! Can't I ..."
"No, you can't. Come on into the house. How many times do you have to be told a thing, Arethusa? You know very well how much your Aunt 'Titia objects to your running around in a storm in this outlandish way!"
"Oh, but Aunt 'Liza, it's not storming yet. Just thundering a little," pleaded Arethusa. "Please let me stay out until it really begins. Please! I'll come right in then. I promise. Please!"
And this effectually nipped in the bud Arethusa's faint little effort to have her own way.
But it would have been nipped effectually sooner or later, for no one ever dreamed of standing up for long against Miss Eliza, or of being so rash as to contemplate such as actual disobedience. Although her stature was that of a child and her figure slight in proportion, she concentrated as much energy and leadership in those four feet eleven inches, as if the figures had been reversed.
Blish, the negro boy who did all the hardest and heaviest work around the house, inside and out, and who stood six feet three in his stockings, hung his head abjectly as before an offended Goliath when his diminutive mistress scolded him for a task she considered slightingly performed. Blish had an honest and ingrained terror of Miss Eliza's wrath and the lashings she could give with her tongue: and he was not alone among those on the Farm in this terror.
So Arethusa abandoned her dance and, with her hair still hanging, meekly followed Miss Eliza towards the front door.
"We have had a letter from your father," began Miss Eliza, as this strange Indian-file procession of very tiny old lady and very tall young girl proceeded back along the flagged walk on which it had issued forth in distinct sections such a short while before.
"Oh!" Arethusa lunged forward and grabbed Miss Eliza around her neck. "When, Aunt 'Liza? When? This morning? What did he say? Why didn't you tell me? Did he say anything for me? Oh, Aunt 'Liza, what did he say?"
These staccato questions were poured forth as fast as it is possible for human lips to utter words.
Miss Eliza extricated herself from the embrace without interrupting her progress.
"We considered it best, your Aunt 'Titia and I and your Aunt 'Senath," (She never spoke of herself and Arethusa's other great-aunts in any different way or order, and why, no one could tell) "to discuss it thoroughly among ourselves before we said anything to you about it. It was a very unexpected letter; almost a shock, I might say, the contents. It came yesterday afternoon. I wish, Arethusa, that you would learn not to be so violent. You could have asked me about it without nearly strangling me."
Every fibre of Arethusa's body quivered with impatience. What little self-control she had, and Miss Eliza would have named it none at all, was only managed with the greatest difficulty. Behind her aunt's leadership she proceeded with little hops and skips. Her tongue burned with all the rest of those questions she was so longing to ask.
A Letter from Father in the house ever since yesterday afternoon, and she had not even seen it! It was the one time in weeks that she had not gone down to the mail-box for the mail! So it always happened!
Suddenly Miss Eliza turned.
"You make me so nervous, Arethusa, jumping up and down that way behind me, I could scream! Can't you walk!" Then she added, half to herself and rather irrelevantly too, considering the gist of the foregoing conversation. "I must say that I question very strongly the wisdom of Sister 'Titia's decision."
All decisions were, nine cases out of ten, wholly Miss Eliza's; but in conversation responsibility for them was generally shifted to Miss Letitia.
Arethusa made a noble effort to compose herself and did her very utmost to walk as she had been requested.
From long experience of her aunt, she knew it would do no earthly good to ask a single one of those questions she so desired to have answered. Miss Eliza told a person all that was necessary when she was quite ready for it, herself, and without the least regard as to the state of feverish impatience to which such a proceeding might bring a petitioner. And very often, Arethusa had also discovered, questioning delayed the wished-for loosening of Miss Eliza's tongue.
Miss Eliza paused to shut the front door carefully behind them, latching it against the storm; and Arethusa ran on ahead into the sitting-room at one end of the big, square hall, a "dog-trot" hall which went straight through the centre of the house from front porch to back porch.
This place known as the "sitting-room" was a nondescript apartment crowded with furniture of varied sorts, till every available space was occupied by something. It was too crowded to be really pleasing when one entered it for the first time and yet it possessed certain and unmistakable charm; which was a charm Miss Asenath may have given. Her couch dominated everything, drawn across between the two south windows. But whatever it was, one undoubtedly had a feeling of something about the sitting-room which made it lovable after being in it the shortest possible time.
The furniture which made it seem crowded ran from a new and shiny sewing-machine of very recent purchase, through some pieces belonging unmistakably to the period of temperamentally carved walnut of a generation or so ago, back to the plain wood and simple lines of Colonial days. Miss Eliza's high old secretary, placed to get the best possible light for her slightly near-sighted eyes which she obstinately refused to admit were anything but perfect in their vision, was of the last description. The secretary stood open always, and was of a consistently immaculate order. The neat little piles of papers and account-books in the various pigeon-holes were arranged so precisely they looked as if they had never been touched since first put in their places, and yet the owner spent many industrious moments, nearly every day, working with them. The piano, which sat almost directly opposite the secretary, was of a trifle later construction. It was large and square, of inlaid rosewood, with handsomely carved legs, and had mother-of-pearl keys faintly tinged with brown all around their edges. From end to end, lengthwise of its top, was a long narrow piece of dark red satin decorated with bunches of tall cat-tails heavily painted in oils. Scattered music lay all over the piano, on the music-rack, sliding down on the keys, and in small, untidy piles hastily placed on the red satin cover. Its scattered condition was conclusive evidence that Arethusa had been handling it, for she was the only person on the place who ever scattered anything about so untidily. There was a wicker sewing-basket in the room, Miss Letitia's property. And a large and pompous what-not of black walnut, elaborately and fantastically carved, guarded the corner nearest the door, bearing as its piece de resistance a bunch of wax flowers under a glass case, flowers shaped by Miss Asenath's gentle fingers a great many years ago; one or two shells wearing landscapes in oils—of colors and tints never yet seen in an actual landscape—also reminiscent of Miss Asenath's artistic girlhood; and several other non-utilitarian objects of varying degrees of beauty, according to the personal taste of the beholder. A much larger shell than those on the what-not, with a landscape containing a cow and other objects no doubt intended as human, propped open the door into the hall. A white marble clock, with a large piece of white coral lying on its top and under a glass case like the wax flowers, ticked away on the high mantel in the dignified and quiet way which befitted a clock belonging to the Redfields. And there were many other pieces of furniture and bits of old-fashioned ornament in the room.
The various generations and the lives which each one had lived at the Farm might almost be known by observation of these things in the sitting-room. Each generation and its occupations had seemed to leave behind it an imprint in furniture and ornament.
But had the sitting-room not been a room of rather unusual dimensions, it could never have held all of the diversified objects gathered in it. And they were gathered in it of real necessity, for all the life of the house centered about Miss Asenath, and in this room she spent her whole waking time. Miss Asenath had not left the couch between the two south windows for over fifty years, except to be lifted from it to her bed at night and back to it again in the morning for another day.
She was as tiny as Miss Eliza, but even thinner, and her delicate features made her profile seem like a deliciously tinted cameo against the faded tan of the sitting-room wall. She had an abundance of soft white hair that waved like a fleecy cloud about her face. Her skin was white and waxen clear; her loose gown was of woolly material, white and spotless; the pillows piled all around her were all in immaculate white cases; and though her lips still held a faded rose and her eyes gleamed dark, the only real spot of color anywhere immediately about her was a fluffy wool afghan of a heaven-like shade of deep blue spread across the lower part of her helpless body.
Miss Asenath loved all that had color: the gold of sunlight across the sitting-room floor; the green of the grass and the waxen-leaved coral honeysuckle just outside the sitting-room windows; she even loved the wax flowers because they were so gay. But Miss Letitia loved just as dearly to dress her all in white to match her hair and skin (Miss Letitia was the seamstress for the whole family); so there was a compromise. Miss Asenath wore the soft white gowns of Miss Letitia's making and, with Miss Letitia's own connivance, indulged her fancy for colors in her afghans, which she had in every conceivable shade.
Long ago, Miss Asenath had had a Romance.
She had always been the acknowledged beauty of the family in her Dresden china loveliness, and she had been little more than a child when love had come to her in all the wonder and ecstacy of loving that belongs to youth. But a fall from her riding horse had left her pinned to this couch, never to walk again, so she had sent her boy-lover away.
And although she had known him grow old and had watched him live a full life apart from hers (a life actually ended only a very few years ago), she had seemed to see him always as the boy belonging to her girlhood, to those months she had claimed him as her own. She wore his picture in a locket at her throat hung on a piece of ribbon the color of the afghan for that day. It was a miniature of a smiling boy with waving blonde hair brushed high above his forehead in an unmistakable roll, with eyes of a very deep shade of blue, and dressed in a high stock and much be-ruffled shirt, and a blue coat adorned with brass buttons.
Arethusa dearly loved all of this, the Romance and the Locket. She made it her special bit in the dressing of Miss Asenath every morning to hang the locket on its bit of ribbon and tie the tiny bow around Miss Asenath's frail neck.
She often wondered just how it would seem when one was old to have been the Heroine of a Situation exactly like a story book. She pictured it as a dramatic scene of renunciation between the lovers, both satisfyingly well-favored—for Miss Asenath's beauty was a tradition and the boy in the locket was undeniably good to look upon—; and her natural inclination to romance was aided by the reading of many old-fashioned novels of unbridled sentimentality.
Arethusa loved Miss Asenath herself even more than the Romance, though everyone loved her; no one could help it. Even Miss Eliza's crisp tones softened when she spoke to her.
* * * * *
Arethusa plumped herself down on her special hassock right beside Miss Asenath's couch. It was a hassock with a wool-worked top of fearful reds and greens and yellows, which always stood just in that place so Arethusa could sit close to Miss Asenath. Miss Asenath smiled a welcome, and then with her slender fingers, so waxen white against the glowing color of the girl's hair, began plaiting up the loose red mass lest Miss Eliza should notice it and scold Arethusa for running about with her hair unbound.
The room was stifling.
Every window was closed tight, and the blinds drawn down, in addition, making a semi-darkness. For Miss Letitia was afraid of storms, thunder storms especially. At the very first distant rumble of thunder she always closed every opening in the house.
She sat bolt upright in the centre of the room, her plump little person enthroned upon a leather pillow—lightning never struck through feathers—and her never idle fingers were busy crocheting a rose-colored afghan for Miss Asenath. Miss Letitia decidedly preferred steel needles both for crocheting and knitting, but steel was dangerous to use during a storm—it attracted lightning—, so her steel needles were all safe in the very bottom of her bureau drawer underneath her plain assortment of chemises and petticoats. And she had wheeled the sewing machine into the very farthest and darkest corner of the room.
Miss Letitia was like nothing in the world so much as a ridiculously fat edition of Miss Eliza. But she lacked Miss Eliza's precision, and she could never, even with several conscientious trials, get her hair parted exactly in the middle. Arethusa sometimes on very special occasions parted it for her. Miss Eliza liked to see her sister as neat as herself. She liked Miss Letitia's apparel to have the same trim look as her own instead of the comfortably untidy appearance it did have.
But, as Miss Letitia plaintively expressed it, when taken to task because she was not just so, "It's a great deal easier, Sister, to pin things down on a thin person, because there isn't any strain."
Arethusa picked up the last copy of the Christian Observer, which was lying near Miss Asenath, and fanned herself vigorously. Her efforts to cool herself were so vigorous that in a very few moments she was wet with perspiration and much warmer than she had been before she started to fan. She felt as if she were about to suffocate in this close room after her glorious little run in the breath of the cold wind.
"May I open a window, Aunt 'Titia," she begged, "Please, mayn't I? It's not storming yet, and, and, I'm so hot!"
"Never open a window in a storm, 'Thusa. It's a very dangerous thing to do."
Miss Letitia iooked at her great-niece just as severely as she knew how, though the severe effect she intended was somewhat marred by that perennial twinkle in her eyes and the rosy cloud in her lap below her round, rosy face. Such a setting made her look more like a grown-up cherub than anything else at the moment.
The whole room, even with its closed blinds, was suddenly illuminated by a blinding glow, and a crashing roll of thunder followed immediately afterwards.
Miss Letitia screamed.
"Mercy on us! How awful! That was so near. Sister 'Liza, you'd better get a pillow! 'Thusa...!"
Always, in a storm, one of Miss Letitia's first duties was to bulwark Miss Asenath who could not get pillows for herself, and so the latter was almost buried in them. Miss Asenath passed one of her many over to Arethusa, who sat on it obediently. Then the gentle creature on the couch rewarded her with a pat; by this conveying her loving intelligence of just how much the sitting on the hot, stuffy protection Miss Letitia insisted upon was hated, and her recognition of the magnanimity of doing so with murmuring. But it was Miss Asenath's way to make anything but good behaviour in her immediate vicinity well-nigh impossible.
Next, she reached over and took the Christian Observer from Arethusa's hot grasp, and began herself to fan the overheated girl very slowly and quietly.
"If you sit quite still, dear," she said softly, "you'll cool off in just a moment."
Miss Eliza's sturdy uprightness disdained the "safety first" aid of pillows. She was a fatalist.
"If I'm struck, then I'm struck," she said, with the finality that admits of no argument.
Arethusa sat quietly on her hassock and under Miss Asenath's gentle regularity of fanning she cooled off gradually, but her impatience was in no wise abated. Father's letter was still undiscussed; and Arethusa wished that Miss Eliza would hurry and tell her about it, and what he had said. She seemed so very much longer than usual in getting started on what her niece considered the most burning question of the hour.
She told Miss Letitia about the fall of the bird's nest which she had noticed on her trip to get Arethusa, and Miss Letitia agreed with her sister that it was a blessing that the wind had blown it down before it rained, else the gutter would surely have flooded again. They discussed with zeal the advisability of putting wire netting over the gutter end to keep those birds from re-building, and the length of time the storm was in actually coming. Miss Letitia ventured the prediction that it was to be a hard rain and she certainly hoped that Blish had remembered to put the barrels under that broken place in the north-east water spout to catch all the rain-water that was possible: and Miss Eliza replied with asperity that if he had not remembered it, he would find himself sorry. But she really considered it decidedly remiss in Jere Conway not to have fixed that spout weeks ago; she herself had told him about it on her last visit to town. Jere Conway was getting lazier and lazier as he got older and less attentive to business. Although she hated very much to employ a strange man, still if he put off much longer fixing that spout, she was going to send for the new tin-smith at the Junction.
Finally, Arethusa felt that she could not stand all this irrelevancy another second; her impatient longing had to be expressed.
"Please, Aunt 'Liza, what did Father say?"
Miss Eliza dropped her glasses to the end of her nose.
"You must learn to wait, Arethusa. You are much too impatient. Like your father."
Miss Asenath's gentle voice interposed, "But why not tell her, Sister? Right now?"
So Miss Eliza proceeded.
"Your father," she announced, in a tone that plainly indicated her hearty disapproval of the whole affair, and plunging at once into the very middle of her subject, "has married again!"
"Married again!" echoed Arethusa, uncertainly.
The effect of her aunt's disclosure was as though some one had thrown a bulky object at her quite unexpectedly.
"That's what I said, I believe. It's what I intended to say. Shut your mouth, child,—you look half-witted with it open that way. I always did think he would. And I must confess I never thought he'd wait near as long as he has. Though I'm no great believer in second marriages, myself."
"But, Aunt 'Liza ..."
Miss Eliza frowned at the interruption.
"Will you wait, Arethusa? Till I finish!"
Arethusa might have retorted, and very properly, that nothing had been really begun as yet, by jumping into a middle without preamble. But then, Miss Eliza had her own most individual way of doing everything, even to telling of the contents of important letters.
"When I have finished, you may read his letter for yourself. His new wife," she crowded a quantity of scorn into those two words, "wants you to come visit them. He says she does. They both do. She has sent ..."
Arethusa sprang, starry-eyed, from her hassock. Her hands flew, clasped, up to her heart to hold its beating down.
"To Europe? Oh, Aunt 'Liza!"
"Will you wait!! I must say! To Europe, indeed! He's in America!"
And then Arethusa gave such a shriek of joy that it echoed through and through the house. Mandy, in the kitchen, looked inquiringly at Blish as it penetrated there. Miss Asenath smiled; Miss Letitia's crochet needle slipped clear out of the stitch she was just taking: and Miss Eliza put her hands over her ears.
"Arethusa!! If you don't sit down!..."
So Arethusa subsided to the hassock, still quivering. Miss Asenath gave her a reassuring pat and her frail hand was grabbed and held tight. Such composure as could be managed came easier with something to squeeze.
Miss Eliza continued her tale.
"Yes, his new wife, thank heaven, is an American, and I reckon she wants to live at home." Then to herself, parenthetically, "I was always afraid he'd marry one of those frog-eating foreigners he's been trotting around with so long, and I must say I'm mightily surprised that he didn't."
She paused a moment and looked at Arethusa over her glasses as if Arethusa were the one to blame for this situation. Although the girl did not dare open her mouth in face of such an expression, she gave a little jump of impatience. It did seem as if Miss Eliza might finish telling It, and tell It straight, in some sort of order, if she were going to tell It at all.
"They want you to come visit them," repeated Miss Eliza, after her parenthesis and the little pause, "and your father's sent the money, as he says, for your 'immediate needs.' Over one hundred dollars it is. He says his wife gave it to him. She must be mighty well-off. 'Immediate needs,' indeed! I can buy your whole winter wardrobe with that money!"
Then once more did Arethusa rush recklessly in where angels would have feared to tread.
"Oh, Aunt 'Liza!..." A belated discretion came to her aid before she finished.
Miss Eliza frowned again. Her lips drew ominously down, and reprimand of some sort was plainly to be detected hovering there, but, for some obscure reason, she also changed her mind.
"Your Aunt 'Titia," she said, rather mildly, and thus apparently shifting all responsibility for any evil, which might ensue from this step to Miss Letitia's plumper shoulders, "your Aunt 'Titia has decided that so long as this is nearly August, there's no earthly use in your going to visit them until fall. So I'm going to write your father that. He may not like it, because he wants you right away, his letter says. But it would be downright foolishness to get you more summer clothes this late in the season; and you haven't near enough now, nor the right kind, to visit in a city. It's just like him, for all the world, this whole affair. Letting you alone for this long, and then all of a sudden wanting you to be bundled right off to him! You'll be needing winter clothes in a month or two," she finished decidedly, "so you're going in the fall." Then she added, much more to herself, however, than to Arethusa, "But I must say, I strongly doubt the wisdom of your going at all."
She settled back in her chair with the air of one having said her say, but leaving her niece with a feeling strongly resembling dissatisfaction.
Miss Eliza had simply flung these few facts at her without any elaboration; sketched in the bare outlines to what, viewed by Arethusa, a whole volume might be added without doing anywhere near full justice to the Subject. There was that matter of the "new wife," especially. One's only father does not get married every day, and to dismiss the lady of his choice by simply stating her existence does not gratify a thousandth part of natural curiosity. Her father, she knew, had written more than just the simple fact of his marriage. If he had done just that; then it was certainly not her father who had written the letter.
Miss Eliza had not told her when ... or where ... or ...
Arethusa gazed at her aunt, clasping and unclasping her hands helplessly; her lips parted for speech, but no words came, for so many words trembled there, they literally dammed one another up.
"I ... Did Father ..." she managed to gasp, finally.
But Miss Eliza seemed to read through this inadequacy of expression some of that chaos of thought which whirled round and round in Arethusa's brain. She reached down in the little leather pocket that always hung at her belt and drew out a large, square envelope.
"Here, child, I said you could read it," and although her tone was as sharp as always, it was not unkind. "That woman he married. You want to know, I reckon. Some more about her. It's perfectly natural. He's gone into all sorts of raptures over her, of course. He wouldn't be Ross Worthington if he hadn't. And she is very probably just an ordinary female woman."
Arethusa seized the outstretched envelope eagerly.
"May I...?" she asked.
She spoke to Miss Asenath, who nodded a permission to the unfinished but evident request before either of the other aunts had a chance to refuse it.
So Arethusa was off like the wind, unheeding of the anxious call Miss Letitia sent after her.
Out through the back of the house this time, and on through the kitchen where she paused only long enough to squeeze Mandy, one of her staunchest allies and a certain sharer in all joys, to whirl her clear around from her table where she was working, and to wave the Letter at her excitedly and then plunge on, leaving Mandy absolutely breathless with the suddenness of this onslaught.
The rain was falling now, slowly but steadily, in big heavy drops, and the darkest clouds were lowering, apparently right above her head; but the flying girl paid no attention to these evidences of the imminence of her storm. She held the Letter pressed close against her as if to protect it and made straight for Miss Asenath's Woods, via the orchard.
Arethusa flung herself flat on a mossy spot of ground underneath the largest and tallest of the trees in Miss Asenath's Woods.
Like the vaulted ceiling of a huge green cathedral, the branches far above her curved in graceful arches. And they were so thickly interlaced and grown with leaves, that although this first slow-falling rain of the storm could be distinctly heard in its noisy pattering on those leaves, very little came through them, save an extra large and splashing drop every now and then.
Having run every step of the way from the house, Arethusa was completely out of breath: and she could only lie panting for some moments, the Letter still clutched to her breast.
The wind had died down, and it was as hot and close out here in the open under the trees as it had seemed in the shut-up sitting room. But she was far from any thought of physical discomfort now.
* * * * *
At the beginning of Miss Asenath's Romance those many years ago, her father, Arethusa's great-grandfather Redfield, had set aside this strip of woodland in which to build his daughter a house.
It was not nearly so heavily wooded then, and the lovers had wandered over it and selected a spot for the little home, mute evidence of their choice of site remaining in a half-dug foundation, overgrown with vines and weeds and almost indistinguishable save for the few heavy stones that marked one side of the depression. But the walls of the little house had risen in fancy for her with such reality, that, when the sad ending to her love-story came and the building was abandoned, at Miss Asenath's request the woodland was fenced off. Hence, its name of "Miss Asenath's Woods." She had never gone there since the day when with her own hands she had spread a layer of mortar between two stones "for luck," but she knew every inch of it as it was now, every tree and bush, from Arethusa's vivid description. Arethusa's imagination could for herself, from Miss Asenath's telling, place the little house on its ghostly foundation in all the actuality it was once to have had.
Arethusa loved the woodland quite as much as Miss Asenath did, even apart from the significance of its connections with her aunt's love-story. It was the only spot on the place that Miss Eliza did not keep straight; the only bit of the Farm that was not inspected, often, by that keen glance which, even if a trifle near-sighted, so little escaped. But she never went near the woodland on any pretext.
There was nothing "combed" or "fixed" about Miss Asenath's Woods; no white-washed trees or clipped grass. Bees droned and birds sang and wild-flowers bloomed there all uninterrupted; squirrels chattered in the trees, friends of Arethusa's that were tame enough to perch on her shoulder if she sat quite still; and funny little, Molly-cotton-tail rabbits often scampered in front of her while she was reading, so close she could have touched them. It was a bit of nature that no human hand had ever spoiled, the never finished foundation was only an addition in its suggestion; therefore, the girl's woodsy heart claimed it as her very own, although by name it belonged to Miss Asenath.
But, since the time she was a wee scrap and, running away from Miss Eliza's scolding, had stumbled on this enchanted spot entirely by accident and had brought her dolls down here for play, Arethusa had found congenial occupation in the woodland. And now that she was older, she spent long hours of reading and dreaming instead of play.
In her favorite position, flat on her stomach with her heels in the air and her chin propped in her hands (which position Miss Eliza contended was far removed from the dignity befitting Arethusa's years and had forbidden in her, Miss Eliza's, presence) she read old-fashioned novels that she smuggled out of the bookcase in the parlor. When the book was closed, she invariably added long chapters of her own fancy to the "lived happily ever after" ending. Yet all that she read did not, by any means, end thus happily, for she loved sad stories also. She knew "The Scottish Chiefs" almost by heart. It was foolish, perhaps, to lie under the trees and read sobbingly until she could hardly see what she was reading for the tears, and then dab at her eyes with a sopping wet handkerchief; but ... it was Arethusa. She was most Incurably Romantick.
She kept a few of her greatest favorites here in this hollow tree in the centre of the woodland, for a story one likes cannot be read too often, thought this gentle reader.
Here also, for the hollow tree somewhat resembled a treasure chest in its interior, she had a length of green of the same soft shade as the lichen of the woods around her. It was a green ribbon so thoroughly satisfying in its color that only to spread it out on the grass where her eyes might gaze upon it delighted Arethusa's soul.
Some day.... Some day.... She would have a green dress of just that identical shade. "And Aunt 'Liza may say all she pleases about my hair!"
Of which bit of meditated defiance, Miss Eliza remained in total ignorance.
For Arethusa's hair was an uncompromising red. It was a deep, rich brown-red in shadow and a burnished coppery-red in the sunlight, wonderful to behold, but still red. And there was a decided difference of opinion between Miss Eliza and her niece as to the color most suitable for the clothes that were to be worn with such a top-knot. Miss Eliza was horrified at the bare thought of any but the plainest of shades beside it; generally standing up strongly for blue, a very dark blue. Arethusa, although she rather preferred other colors of an infinite variety, would not have minded blue so much had Miss Eliza's selections been less depressingly somber. Abortive attempts to enliven her wardrobe were immediately crushed with scathing references to the fiery locks. And the wardrobe remained of an unwaveringly dull tone.
According to Miss Eliza, Arethusa's red hair was wholly to blame for her temper, which was of a somewhat quick and lively nature. She seemed, at times, almost to consider it a deep disgrace to the family that her niece should be so crowned. Arethusa was the only red-haired person that had ever been in the whole family connection, so far as anyone knew; an off-shoot, so to speak. But Miss Asenath dearly loved its bright color, and she was never tired of running her fingers through the ruddy masses and of curling and twisting the little shining tendrils of curls that clustered in the nape of the girl's neck.
Arethusa had the warm white skin that nearly always accompanies red locks, somewhat freckled, it is true, but not enough so really to matter; and deep greenish-grey eyes, rimmed all around with the most unbelievably long lashes. They were real Irish eyes, which excitement darkened and made to shine like big stars. It naturally followed that they were dark and starry the greater part of the time, for she was Arethusa and in an almost constant state of excitement.
And she was quite tall and slender, very unlike the Redfields. They were all small and compactly built; but Arethusa had got her height from her father.
* * * * *
Having arrived almost at a state of natural breathing once more, Arethusa rolled over and spread the Letter out before her. She studied her father's bold handwriting with shining eyes, and kissed his signature rapturously.
When she was a baby of about six months or so her father had given her into Miss Eliza's keeping and started for a foreign trip, "of a few months," he had said then. But that was nearly eighteen years ago, and he was still on the other side, with never so much as the most flying visit to the little daughter in America in all that time. Yet the love and loyalty of that little daughter had never wavered from the day Miss Asenath had put his photograph into her tiny hands, and taught her to call it "Father," and to kiss it through the glass.
This love and loyalty were not founded upon memories, for she had none. They were given a father created by her own vivid fancy, aided by the photograph. This was a faded likeness of an unusually handsome man with waving hair of an eccentric length and bold dark eyes smiling straight out of the picture as if he were just about to speak to the Arethusa who worshipped it. He wore a Byronic sort of collar, with a wide tie, and his shoulders were draped in an Italian military cape, effectively thrown back from the one wide frog that clasped it just below the flowing ends of the tie. So he was not like other fathers; not at all like those most commonplace male parents with which Arethusa was acquainted. He was far more like the Hero in one of those sentimental novels she never tired of reading. She could but give him all the most desirable of the attributes of the men-folk who lived in those pages; for they seemed so far superior to any man she knew in the flesh.
Miss Asenath, with her stories of him, had helped unconsciously in the creation of this ideal. Miss Asenath had loved him very dearly,—loved his bright youth as she did all youth. Miss Eliza's bark was always much worse than her bite, and she, although she spoke very slightingly of him at times, had been quite fond of him. So, too, had Miss Letitia. The little daughter had grown up in an atmosphere that fostered her hero-worship.
Arethusa's most carefully cherished Dream, through childhood to the very present time, had been that some day this wonderful father of hers would come home, here to the Farm. She had planned their meeting, to the smallest detail, many and many a time. And he had written that he was coming, over and over again; only to add a little later that "he would not be able to get across this year." But these repeated disappointments had in no wise chilled the glow of his daughter's anticipation.
And now ... he was actually on this side of the Atlantic! No longer the broad ocean rolled between them. If he had not come clear back to the Farm, he had come much nearer to it than he had ever been In Arethusa's recollection of him; and, moreover, he had come with a wife!
Small wonder that Arethusa was excited!
But the Letter.... The Letter would tell her all about it.
"My dear Miss Eliza," it ran—
"I may as well come to the point at once—you always liked that best, as I recall—and tell you that I am married; was married in Italy, at the American Consulate at Florence, the second of last June. My wife is the very finest woman God ever made, bar none; save perhaps you ladies to whom I write. And I, who was ever for peace, will fight to a finish him who avers aught to the contrary. I cannot expect you, who have never seen her, to share my enthusiasm, of course. But if you knew her, Miss Eliza, if you knew her!
"Words fail me in an effort at description, but will it suffice to say that I am perfectly satisfied to gaze at her all day long, day in and day out? This surely must convey something to you who knew me well of old and will remember that I was ever most critical, having the idea then that my bent was artistic.
"I could hardly believe in my own good fortune, Miss Eliza, when she said she would have me. I asked her all over again, immediately, just to make sure. So now the former Miss Elinor Harvey is Mrs. Ross Worthington.
"To make a long story short, I have told her about Arethusa, and she is most anxious to know her new daughter. As she is possessed of considerably more of this world's goods than is your humble servant—the one thing I have against her—she has insisted upon herself enclosing a check for our daughter's immediate needs, and this daughter is to come as soon as you and Miss Letitia can get her ready. Don't be sparing with this check; I am instructed to add, more will be sent if necessary.
"My wife—I do love to write that word, Miss Eliza,—says that she will write, herself, very shortly. She is most busy at present, turning her house upside down from garret to cellar, but she says that when it is finished it will be a most beautiful house.
"Give my love to Miss Letitia and my darling daughter, Arethusa, and my most knightly devotion always to Miss Asenath, bless her! My wife joins me in all kind wishes for your household.
Arethusa hugged herself ecstatically and then pressed her lips to the Letter until the ink smudged. It was a wonderful Letter!
And the whole of the situation revealed in it appealed to her. The Romance (a love story brought even nearer home than Miss Asenath's, for it was her own dearest father who was living it right now); the Beauty of the bride, so plainly stated, and Arethusa loved beauty with all the fire of her romantic young soul; and the bride's Wealth, undoubtedly intimated, which gave the necessary touch of luxury to the picture, for Arethusa loved the fleshpots also, if an innocent liking for silks and satins and baronial halls could be called "love of the fleshpots,"—it was as perfect a situation as any created by any one of her favorite novelists. She was visioning a Rarely Handsome Couple, hand in hand, moving with slow and stately grace through the vast halts of a Mansion.
"Elinor" was a beautiful name; far more beautiful than any other name she knew.
In short, being constitutionally unable to do anything by halves, Arethusa fell most completely in love with the newcomer into the family, when she might have had other feelings about her, perhaps just as strong. But there was not the slightest trace of anything resembling resentment in the daughter's heart that a strange woman had taken the first place with her father; she would not have understood if anyone had suggested to her that it might be permissible under the circumstances. There was only a very deep gratitude that flooded her whole being. She realised quite plainly from the Letter that it was owing a great deal to the "New Wife" that her dream of so many years was coming true. She had brought Ross back to America, so much nearer to his daughter, and she had sent her, Arethusa, (sent it herself because it was positively so stated) the money whereby she was to make reality that long anticipated meeting.
But she did not waste much time in speculation as to the spending of that "check for her immediate needs"; such would have been truly idle dreaming. Miss Eliza would spend it. She would attend to the providing of a wardrobe for the visit, and that wardrobe would be utilitarian first and foremost, and durable. All of Miss Eliza's purchases had the virtue of durability. For best, perhaps, Arethusa might have a silk dress (her Sunday silk of the season before was almost worn out), but it would be a dark blue one, undoubtedly; and one was convinced before it was even bought that it would be a sensible dress.
Had Arethusa had the spending of the money her outfit might present a very different appearance.
* * * * *
She had been so absorbed in her Letter that she had not noticed that the storm had begun to increase in violence. The wind was rising again and the rain was beginning to come rapidly through the leaves.
Suddenly, with a roar like the approach of some vast army across the fields, it came from the northwest in a blinding sheet, and in just a moment she was drenched. She scrambled hastily to her feet and thrust the Letter far down in the hollow of the tree to keep it dry, and then, flattened herself against the trunk to watch, as much protected as she could be, and with the intensest admiration, this masterpiece of the Storm King. She was not in the least bit frightened of the vivid lightning that played almost incessantly about her, or of the rolling and crashing thunder. She lifted up her face to feel the rain upon it, and smiled in sheer joy of the wonderful beauty of the graceful long sweep of that failing rain.
But with a crack of thunder which Miss Letitia would have said was "near," most certainly, for it sounded as though the heavens themselves were fallen, Arethusa's eyes closed involuntarily.
Timothy Jarvis was making preparations to salt the cattle down in the "V" lot on his place (so-called because a wedge of the Redfield property carved out a bit of its very centre) when those angry black clouds began piling up.
He was not very weather wise as yet, this sturdy boy farmer, Timothy, and so his study of the brooding sky did not help him as much, in his prognostication of what it would bring forth, as it might have helped older folk more acquainted with the vagaries of weather. Mandy or Miss Eliza or Blish could have told him that black clouds in the north west always meant a bad storm, and one that came quickly. But Timothy thought of his sleek red cattle, of which he was so proud, which were needing salt so dreadfully, and he decided that he had plenty of time in which to go on ahead and finish his job before the storm should really break. He hated to leave them until every last one had had a chance at the coarse salt he spread out for them on the rocks by the Branch. And the clouds would probably go on piling up that way for some hours.
So sure was he that this prediction was correct that he sent the man who was helping him back to the barn with the mule and spring-wagon, and planned to walk himself. He wanted a look at the bunch in the wood-lot, and now, while he was so near it, was as good a time as he could find in which to visit that other herd.
But the first falling drops caught him before he was half way to the wood-lot, so he turned around without attempting that visit and started for home. Then that great downpour which had trapped Arethusa under the hollow tree caught him just as he was passing Miss Asenath's Woods, and he decided to go on up to the Redfield house, as it was so much nearer than his own; nearly a mile and a half nearer, this way.
He climbed the snake fence into the woodland and splashed rapidly through the wet growth. The big leaves that he brushed in passing, emptied their load of water upon him; Timothy was getting wetter and wetter, but rather enjoying it all. Then he spied Arethusa propped up against her tree with her eyes shut tight, and he stopped short in amazement.
Her eyes flew open. She screamed; for Timothy had appeared before her as suddenly as though he had come in that clap of thunder.
"Timothy! You nasty thing! You scared me almost to death!"
"What on earth are you doing out here?"
"Picking water lilies!" she replied pertly.
"You must have fallen in then, because I never did see anything just as wet! But I thought you weren't afraid of storms?"
"I'm not. I love 'em."
"Why do you screw up your eyes for when it thunders then?" he asked, teasingly, as at another terrific sound her eyes shut just as tight as before.
But she only made a face at him in reply.
"Does Miss 'Liza know you're out here?" Timothy demanded next.
"I'll just bet she doesn't," he contradicted calmly. "You better come go in. You are wet clear through."
"So are you," retorted Arethusa.
"I think you had better come go in," persisted Timothy. "Honest, Arethusa! It's dangerous," he added, quickly, for just as he spoke a great tree in the outer edge of the woodland went crashing to the ground.
"I shan't go in." She stamped her foot for emphasis. "Run along, Timothy, if you're afraid. I'm going to stay. I love it!"
That implication of fear put him on his masculine mettle at once.
"I'm not afraid," he declared, stoutly. "It's just foolish, that's all. Come on, Arethusa."
She resented this tone of authority.
"No!" she said, most positively.
"Well, then ... I'll take you," announced Timothy, equally positive. "I just can't let you tempt Providence this way."
Her eyes blazed dark. "If you so much as dare touch me, Timothy Jarvis, even; I'll ... I'll...." Words failed her.
Timothy regarded her in helpless exasperation. Being very well acquainted with Arethusa and Arethusa's ways, he knew that she would have retaliated in some very real and immediate fashion, had he made a single move to carry out his threat. And nothing he could do along this line would have brought the going in any nearer, for in a scuffle she was quite as strong as he was.
They had been forced to converse in shouts in order to be heard above the noise of the storm through the swaying and bending trees, and the whole affair:—the loud argument which got nowhere, and the subsequent tableau of the girl and himself standing here under the big tree glaring at each other while the fury of the rain lashed against them and the storm dinned about them, suddenly struck Timothy as funny.
"Stop laughing!" screamed Arethusa, angrily.
"I can't help it! You—you look so perfectly funny!" Timothy's mirth pealed forth again.
Arethusa's hair hung about her face in long, wet locks; her eyes, in her white face, were like great, dark pools of wrath; and she had spread her arms out behind her against the tree as if she had gripped it to hold should Timothy attempt force to make her leave her stronghold.
"You look just like a drowned rat, yourself!" she exclaimed furiously. "And—and you've got a whole pond in your Jimmy!"
So Timothy took off his big Jimmy hat and shook the pool of rain water out of the curved brim.
Had she not been so angry with him, Arethusa might have likened him then to a young river god instead of a "drowned rat," and the comparison would have fitted much better. And with his blonde head, which the dampness had merely made to wave a little more, for his thickly plaited straw hat had somewhat protected it from a thorough wetting, she might even have called him a young Viking, without any very great misuse of metaphor; Timothy was so thoroughly of the outdoors in his appearance, with all his youthful strength.
His deep blue eyes gleamed with determination as plainly as the grey eyes opposite him gleamed with anger, for Timothy meant that Arethusa should go into the house; and that without much more delay.
But he changed his tactics to accomplish this. Although he was nothing of a weather prophet, he displayed, at times, wisdom rather beyond his years.
"Arethusa, do be reasonable, now," he said, in the most friendly of coaxing tones. "Suppose that tree should be struck; you'd be killed. I would too."
"That wouldn't make very much difference," she replied, naughtily.
But he ignored this interruption. "I might enjoy doing this some other time, Arethusa, when the lightning and thunder aren't so bad. This is the very worst electrical storm we've had this whole summer. And you know that I never do mind being out in the rain, don't you? I've always been quite wilting to play Alpheus for you, whenever you wanted." (Timothy had studied mythology when he was in Freeport at college.) "But think," he added, much more seriously, "think of poor Miss 'Titia. You can be sure she's just having one fit right after the other with you out here. I call it dirt mean to make her suffer so. And it's not a bit like you to be mean, Arethusa, not a bit."
The picture Timothy presented of Miss Letitia's distress was all the more sad to contemplate because she knew it, only too well, to be true. She was getting a trifle tired of it, besides: it was only obstinacy that had kept her out so long. Yet it would never do to have him find that out. She conveyed the intelligence to him that nothing in the wide world but the thought of Miss Letitia and Miss Letitia's unhappiness would ever have dragged her away from the tree, lest he become unduly convinced of the idea that any of his other, and more immediately personal, arguments had influenced.
"And," she added, "I wanted to get real wet, for just once. But I couldn't get any wetter if I stayed. My shoes slosh now."
He agreed with her perfectly. "Without a doubt they do; I can hear 'em. You were certainly well named Arethusa, you crazy thing!" He tucked her arm in his with an authoritative air, "Let's run for it."
Nothing suited Arethusa better.
They had a glorious race through the wet orchard and brought up with a grand flourish on the back porch, where Mandy greeted their finale with many horrified exclamations and much gesturing.
"Ef Mis' 'Liza wuz to see you! Ef Mis' 'Liza wuz jes' to see you all now!"
"Well, she mustn't," cautioned Timothy. "Stop making so much noise, Mandy, and smuggle Arethusa in."
"I don't really care if she does see me," Arethusa herself announced most recklessly. "I've had so much fun! Listen...." She slapped her wet dress against her, "Doesn't that make a funny sound? And, oh, Timothy, see what a puddle I've made already, just running off me!! Look!"
"Mis' Titia's ben havin' one hystik after anothah, Arethusie, she were so sure you wuz struck w'en we heered that big tree go down in Mis' 'Senath's Woods. An' Mis' 'Liza's...."
"Well, Arethusa! I must say that this is a performance!"
And the three on the back porch turned to see Miss Eliza regarding them grimly from the kitchen doorway.
Timothy gallantly removed his Jimmy hat and bowed, but Miss Eliza's expression did not soften in the least.
"I don't think she's hurt at all, Miss 'Liza," he said, with the worthy intent to soothe, "I found her in Miss 'Senath's Woods and brought her in."
"I can see she isn't," replied Miss Eliza.
Arethusa glared at Timothy for his statement of the situation.
"Arethusa," continued Miss Eliza, "I must say that I think this is going a little bit too far. You have almost made your Aunt 'Titia ill by running off in this storm. You know perfectly well just how they affect her. And I brought you into the house—once. You were certainly expected to stay. Sometimes you seem to me to be absolutely lacking in any finer sensibilities; especially in consideration for others. And you behave just like a child!"
"Oh, Miss 'Liza," interposed Timothy, "please don't jack Arethusa up so hard! I know she didn't mean to make Miss 'Titia ill. She loves a storm herself, so much, that she doesn't always remember that other people are afraid of them. But she did come in just as soon as she remembered it. She...."
"You needn't say all that stuff, Timothy Jarvis," interrupted Arethusa, angrily, "I reckon I can tell Aunt 'Liza anything I want, without you butting in. I'm sorry about Aunt 'Titia, Aunt 'Liza, I truly am, and I'll go right straight and tell her so; but...."
"That will do, Arethusa," interrupted Miss Eliza, in her turn. "Don't add rudeness to Timothy to the rest of your behaviour. And you've been told a number of times not to use that vulgar expression. Timothy is not a goat. But there is not the slightest use in my standing here arguing with you over your disobedience while you and Timothy are catching your death of cold. You'd better take off those wet shoes and go right up to your room and change the rest of your things—immediately. Mandy will make you a hot lemonade. And I want it drunk this time. We won't take any risks from this escapade." (Arethusa hated hot lemonade.) "And, Timothy, you will stay to supper, of course. We are a household of women, and I have nothing to offer you as dry clothes except those old garments of Mr. Worthington's. But at least they are warm and dry, and will be better than what you have on. You just go on up to the west bed-room and I'll send them to you there."
"Timothy shan't wear Father's clothes!"
Arethusa toed the mark, although with a very bad grace.
"It wasn't me that invited you to supper, Timothy Jarvis," she announced, as a small measure of retaliation, "remember that, please! And I don't want you, either!"
"I'm sorry," replied Timothy calmly, and his eyes danced, "because I'm going to stay. Miss 'Liza asked me. Mandy's going to have hot biscuit,—I see 'em; and Miss 'Liza'll get me out some of her strawberry preserves, I know."
Miss Eliza smiled indulgently at this request, and reached down into her leather pocket for the key to the preserve closet.
"You better make lots of biscuit, Mandy," continued Timothy; "I'm as hungry as a bear."
Arethusa sniffed disdainfully and, with her red head high in the air, started off down the passage in the direction of the sitting-room.
"Where are you going?" called Miss Eliza after her.
"To tell Aunt 'Titia I'm sorry I scared her."
"Did you hear me tell you to take off your shoes and go straight to your room?" Miss Eliza's tone was awful.
Although Arethusa towered a good head and shoulders over Miss Eliza, she obeyed as meekly as the tiniest child. She returned to the kitchen to remove her shoes and then went down the side passage to the boxed-in steps, Miss Eliza surveying her sternly all the while.
As Arethusa passed Timothy on her way out of the kitchen, she leaned close to him and whispered, "I'll fix you for all this, Timothy Jarvis! You just wait and see if I don't!"
It was hardly fair to blame Timothy for any of it, but if she had threatened to "fix" Miss Eliza total annihilation would have followed immediately. Yet overcharged feelings must be somehow relieved.
With the disappearance of her niece, Miss Eliza took occasion to apologize to the guest of the evening for any and all of her behaviour, which might have appeared unseemly. This proceeding so delighted Timothy he could hardly repress a whoop; for he well knew that nothing would make Arethusa so furious as to know her aunt had apologized (to him) for anything she had done.
One of the chief joys of Timothy's existence was teasing Arethusa.
What fun to tell her of this!
Miss Eliza presided with gentle dignity at the head of the supper table. She seemed to shed some of her militant spirit when seated before the white expanse of table-cloth on her own board. Hospitality was her passion; nothing so thoroughly delighted her as a "guest in the home."
Mandy had made floating custard for dessert this evening, and when Miss Eliza helped it, she helped it with a deprecatory air, as though despite its superlative value as a custard which she very well knew, it really was not fit to be offered to a guest: it might do for just the family. Timothy ate as many as three meals every week of his life in this very dining-room, but not being a member of the immediate home circle, he came quite under the head of guests.
At the other end of the table Miss Letitia carved the beautifully pink old ham into paper thin slices. She was still visibly nervous and her hands trembled a bit, every now and then (that storm had been a terrible experience); but such was habit with Miss Letitia that not a single slice was a bit ragged or a sliver too thick.
Arethusa had paid Miss Letitia a visit just before supper to make her peace, and Miss Letitia had forgiven her, as she always did. And even had she suffered far more on the girl's account than she actually had, who could have resisted such pleading to be forgiven? Contrition had been so plainly visible in those grey-green eyes, and Arethusa had given so many kisses—soft and fleeting as thistledown they were, yet very satisfactory to Miss Letitia as kisses—that it was quite impossible for Miss Letitia not to believe in the perfect genuineness of Arethusa's apology.
She had promised fervently, "Never, so long as I live, to run out in a storm—ever again. Hope I may die right in my tracks if I do!"
While Miss Letitia had deprecated the latter part of that promise as savoring slightly of sacrilege, she had accepted the first part in good faith; and experience should have taught her otherwise.
Miss Asenath had one whole side of the table to herself, her couch took up so much room. It was Blish's duty, generally, to wheel the couch across the hall from the sitting-room, but whenever Timothy stayed to meals, he took this office upon himself. And he took it with a gallantry and old-fashioned deference that brought a faint pink flush to Miss Asenath's soft old cheek. Timothy was a great favorite of hers.
He and Arethusa sat together on the other side; but Arethusa ignored him just as much as possible. Timothy took special delight in moving such dishes of eatables as were nearest him too far away from his neighbor for her to reach herself, so that she would be forced to ask him for them. She might have eaten her supper, and managed very well, without any of this food that Timothy had commandeered, had not one of those dishes been the plate of biscuit, an absolute necessity.
Miss Eliza's sharp eyes would certainly have noticed, had her niece helped herself to too many at a time, so poor Arethusa was most unpleasantly situated. And every request that she was forced to make for that plate of bread, for Timothy pretended every now and then not to hear the first time she asked, added to her fury with him.
But this continued warfare did not seem to affect Timothy's appetite in the slightest. He consumed a most alarming quantity of biscuits and those strawberry preserves Miss Eliza had produced in his honor.
When he was receiving his third helping of ham, Arethusa leaned over close and whispered in his ear, but very, very softly, so that Miss Eliza would not hear her, "Pig!"
She also lost no single opportunity of conveying to him, though much more by expression than by actual word of mouth, how exceedingly ridiculous she thought he looked in his borrowed clothing. It was far too small for him in every possible way. Ross Worthington was a large man, but Timothy was even larger. He topped Arethusa, who was quite tall for a girl, by considerably more than half a head, and he was built all over in proportion.
When he was not covertly teasing his next-door neighbor, Timothy carried on a very polite conversation with Miss Eliza on sundry country matters. He complimented the stand of corn in the Redfield lot near that "V" lot of his own, and told her that it did not seem to show the need of rain so badly as did his corn; and Miss Eliza bridled at the compliment. She was proud of her ability as a farmer, and that the "Redfield Farm" could hold its own among the other farms in the county, even after all the male members of the family had been long gone to their reward, was due solely to Miss Eliza's indefatigable energy. She deserved the compliment; and any others of like tenor that Timothy might have given.
But she was modestly deprecatory, though her old eyes did shine, and her appreciation was written all over her. That had always been a wet piece of ground, said Miss Eliza; she hadn't been so sure corn would do at all well there. She was a bit surprised herself.
It was rather sad, remarked Timothy, after a bit, that this rain couldn't have come just two or three weeks sooner. He was afraid that some of their farmer friends had lost some money by the drought.
Miss Eliza agreed that it was sad. She specified one or two persons whose crops had not seemed to her to be quite up to the mark. And there was a field or two of her own which, if Timothy were to see, he would not compliment quite so highly; but this rain would work wonders in a great many places. It hadn't come altogether too late.
In a slight lull which followed Timothy's third helping to ham, Miss Letitia asked Arethusa if she had brought her father's letter back to the house with her.
Arethusa's eyes shone immediately.
"Yes," she replied. Then she remembered, "No, I didn't either. I left it down in the Hollow Tree."
"It happened to be my letter," said Miss Eliza, drily.
"I know, but it won't be hurt. I can get it tomorrow. It'll keep perfectly safe and dry. And, oh Aunt 'Liza, please let me go now! He said just as soon as I could get ready. Please don't make me wait 'til fall! Please!"
"Go where?" enquired Timothy.
Arethusa pretended that she had not heard him. Miss Eliza, however, answered.
"Ross Worthington has married again, Timothy, and come back to America. He wants Arethusa to come make him a visit."
Timothy dropped the biscuit he was holding halfway to his mouth.
"Since I was a yellow pup!" he ejaculated feelingly.
"You still are one," Arethusa remarked sweetly for him alone; but Timothy magnanimously allowed this interpolation to pass without retaliation.
"He married an American, thank heaven," continued Miss Eliza, "married her over there somewhere. In Italy, I think he said. She seems to be well-off. It was she sent the money to Arethusa for the visit."
Timothy picked up his biscuit, in his agitation he rebuttered it extravagantly on top of butter already there, and resumed operations.
"Well," he said, between mouthfuls, "this is certainly some bunch of news to hand a fellow all of a sudden. Arethusa's father married! That's enough by itself for a starter!" For to the twenty-two year old mind of Timothy, Ross Worthington seemed far too aged for anything like matrimony. "But wanting Arethusa to come visit him! You going to let her go, Miss Liza?"
"Of course she is!" burst from Arethusa, indignantly.
"Sister 'Titia and I and Sister 'Senath," replied Miss Eliza to Timothy's question, as calmly as if Arethusa had not opened her mouth, "have decided to let her go in the fall. Though I must say I'm not sure it's wise to let her go at all. I never did think it was a very good place for girls, or boys, either, for that matter, the city. Still, Arethusa's never been and a little visit might not do her any harm. After all, he's her father when you get right down, and I reckon he won't let anything happen to his own flesh and blood."
"No," agreed Timothy, with becoming gravity, although his blue eyes danced merrily, "I don't suppose he would. What city is it, Miss 'Liza?"
"He don't say. It's just like him. But the envelope was post-marked 'Lewisburg,' so I reckon it's pretty safe to say that's where he is. I'm glad it's in the State. I wouldn't want Arethusa traveling too far."
Arethusa was irritated beyond her always slight endurance by this little discussion of her and her affairs, carried on so much as if she were not present. She plunged suddenly into the conversation without any invitation.
"I'm not going just to visit," she announced, flatly, "I'm going to Live. Father didn't say just 'visit.'"
This created all the stir she could have wished; a chorus of outcry from Miss Eliza and Miss Letitia and Timothy. Only Miss Asenath smiled. Arethusa pushed her chair back from the table and surveyed them all defiantly.
"I reckon I can go live with my own father!"
"Of course not," snapped Miss Eliza; "you live here!"
"Of course you do," affirmed Timothy; "it's perfectly foolish to talk of living any place else but here, Arethusa. And even if you do go make your father a visit, you won't stay very long. I know. You see, I've been there and I know what it's like, and I know you, too, Arethusa; so I know very well you won't want to stay!"
With this calm assurance and assumption of superiority on Timothy's part, Arethusa's rage at him boiled over, openly, despite Miss Eliza's presence.
"Nobody asked your opinion, Timothy Jarvis, that I heard! And you know absolutely nothing whatever about what I'm going to do!"
"Oh, yes, but I do," he replied, still maddeningly superior, "I know...."
Arethusa fairly quivered in her fury.
"You do not," she interrupted, in flat contradiction. "I'm going there to live. And if you want to know just why, Timothy Jarvis, it's because then I shan't ever have to lay eyes on you again!"
"Arethusa!" from Miss Eliza.
Whereat Arethusa, retaining some small remnants of the instinct for self-preservation, subsided, though her eyes still blazed with honest anger directed at Timothy. And when Miss Eliza's attention was distracted elsewhere for a brief moment, she seized the occasion to whisper to him; "Don't you dare stay a minute after supper, Timothy; don't you dare! I'll go right straight to bed if you do!"
"Which wouldn't harm me at all, if you did," he whispered pleasantly in reply, "just yourself. And Miss 'Liza wouldn't let you do it anyway, even if I stayed and you wanted to. She'd say it was rude, and you know it. But don't worry; keep your shirt on," he added, most inelegantly, "I've got something else to do, so I'm going right on home." Then, very meanly, for it was taking a rather unfair advantage, as Miss Eliza's gimlet eyes were just then boring right through Arethusa to prevent any outburst of suitable venom from her, "And, take it from me, Arethusa, you won't stay long in Lewisburg."
He escaped to Miss Asenath's side to wheel the couch back into the sitting-room, as Miss Eliza had risen just as he finished that last speech and signified that supper was over. Arethusa remained seated for a moment, speechless with wrath, and with that helpless, cheated feeling she always experienced when the last word was Timothy's.
The rain had stopped, so the guest departed with immediacy for home, wearing his borrowed clothing and carrying his own under his arm, much to Arethusa's further ire. She considered that he might just as well have changed before he left, for his own things had got perfectly dry by the roaring kitchen stove.
Then came the lecture for her niece which had been steadily gathering momentum with Miss Eliza for some little time. But Arethusa sat on the end of Miss Asenath's couch, to hold her hand, and did not mind it quite so much. Besides, in the depths of her conscience, she was guiltily aware of rather deserving it.
After the atmosphere had cleared, conversation once more veered around to the Letter, and the aunts sat in solemn consultation over it and the proposed visit and Arethusa.
One of the most agitating parts of this whole affair was the actual traveling that must be done by Arethusa in order to reach her father.
Miss Eliza's first idea was to find out if anyone in the County would be making a trip to the City this fall and to place her niece under that person's protection; provided that person was of the irreproachable character she deemed requisite before being entrusted with such a charge.
Miss Letitia then ventured to mention, most timidly, the State Fair, which was held in Lewisburg every September. Some one of the county's agricultural population would most surely be going there then.
Perhaps Timothy, answered Miss Eliza, graciously conceding Miss Letitia a stroke of real mentality in her suggestion. If he was planning to attend, it would be just the thing; the girl could go with him. She was sorry she had not broached the subject at supper.
But Arethusa vehemently opposed this idea. She would not go a single step with Timothy. And why could she not go alone, anyway? She was quite large enough, and she was all of eighteen this summer.
This very radical departure from the established order of things raised a storm of protest immediately from Miss Letitia and Miss Eliza; Miss Eliza especially. Such was not to be considered for a moment! An absolutely unprotected female traveling alone! And a young female at that!
"No," said Miss Eliza, firmly.
If the worst came to the worst, and it could not possibly be managed any other way, she would go with Arethusa herself, rather than have her make that four hour trip totally unattended; at which presented alternative Arethusa's mobile face clouded over most completely. This was a much worse prospect than Timothy.
Miss Eliza and Miss Letitia suggested and counter-suggested, and then rejected everything. No one idea seemed altogether to suit.
Now all this commotion over the trip and Arethusa's making it alone was really not so uncalled-for when one realized all the circumstances.
She had never been on a railroad train; never having spent longer than a portion of a day away from the Farm in all of her eighteen years, nor slept, even for one night, under any other roof.
The family did their shopping in "Blue Spring," five miles away down the Pike, only by courtesy a town. It was a "town" of six hundred inhabitants, including babes in arms and counting very carefully. On two most memorable occasions Arethusa had visited the county-seat, twelve miles farther on, on the same Pike (for Blue Spring had preempted a portion of the State road as its Main street); and these were occasions truly never to be forgotten. For there ran the railroad, through the heart of the town; there were electric lights and paved streets; the little place in its aping of a city gave her glimpses of a world of fascinating bustle and confusion. To Arethusa, the county-seat seemed bewilderingly active and alive.
But Miss Eliza was not much of a believer in going to town, and she considered it a waste of time to drive about merely to be driving. The old-fashioned surrey, with its dark green felt upholstery, and its flapping curtains, was rarely taken out of the barn without a distinct objective point in view. Church and prayer-meeting at the tiny frame house of worship on the Pike were the principal dissipations of this "household of women." Though Arethusa had often rebelled inwardly at these arbitrary decisions which so limited her excursions abroad, outward rebellion would have done her no good; Miss Eliza was firm and ruled her little kingdom with a rod of iron.
Under cover of the discussion between Miss Eliza and Miss Letitia, Miss Asenath was having a few ideas of her own on other subjects.
"Why," she asked Arethusa, in her soft voice, "why do you dislike Timothy so much, dear?"
"Dislike Timothy, Aunt 'Senath!" Arethusa's eyes opened wide in surprise, "Why, I don't, at all! I like him just lots!"
"Then why," continued Miss Asenath, smiling just a little, "do you quarrel with him so?"
"I don't quarrel with him, Aunt 'Senath, dear.... Not.... Not much...." added for the sake of honesty, after thought.
"I thought you all had rather a bad time at supper."
"Oh, that," Arethusa tossed her head, "that was all Timothy's fault. He's.... He's just awful sometimes. He makes me so mad I could just...." both hands clenched, "and he had on father's clothes!"
"I see. But he's worn them before, dear."
"I know he has, Aunt 'Senath, and every time he does, it makes me just as mad. He.... He doesn't belong in Father's clothes! They don't suit him at all!"
Miss Asenath was silent.
'Way deep down in her heart was a Wish; but it was a Wish she had never expressed to anyone because she was wise, and she knew that wishes expressed were often not granted.
Timothy and Arethusa were nearer and dearer to her than any two people in the world. Timothy was his grandfather over again, name and all, she sometimes thought.
Miss Asenath had not resented it when that first Timothy Jarvis had married. It had hurt her a little, naturally, when she had first heard of it; but her loving heart had very soon understood. An active man could not be expected to view those months before that terrible fall as did she, pinned always to the one spot. There were long hours of both day and night in which she had naught to do but to lie still and remember the joy of those months. And nothing could ever take that away from her, she told herself: it was hers for always, and it was a great deal. So she had clung to her miniature and her memories and sent for him to wish him happiness; and she had wished it with her whole soul from the bottom of her heart. She had loved his sons and daughters when they came, but even more than they, she loved this grandson and namesake, Timothy.
And to see Timothy and Arethusa pick up the threads of her love-story where she had laid them down would almost have compensated Miss Asenath for living all these years with only memories.
Miss Asenath laid her hand on the locket at her throat, and fell to dreaming.
"Timothy," said Arethusa, half to herself, "Timothy and I get along just beautifully sometimes ... when he behaves. But he knows all the things I hate, and I think he does them just for spite to see me get mad. He says he likes to see me get mad, and I ... just like a goose, go right straight ahead and get mad for him. But I'll fix Timothy Jarvis yet for to-night! Just let him wait! If he thinks I'm going to let him ride all over me like that, he's mightily mistaken! Timothy Jarvis!!" with a most scornful emphasis, her voice rising.
Miss Asenath was conscious, although her thoughts were so very far away, of the vindictiveness of this ending, and smiled; Miss Eliza, catching Timothy's name through the sound of her own conversation, asked sharply:—
"What did you say about Timothy, Arethusa?"
Miss Eliza had a Wish also, but her Wish was quite often expressed; she had other ideas than Miss Asenath. She kept Arethusa fully cognizant of what her heart most earnestly desired.
"Nothing very much, Aunt 'Liza."
"Yes, you did. I heard you. Arethusa," Miss Eliza straightened her glasses and attacked directly, "the way you treated Timothy at the supper-table ... all through the meal.... It's beyond my comprehension how you can! But he was a gentleman through the whole thing, I must say, a perfect gentleman. Which ought to make you more than ever ashamed of yourself. Sometimes I'm forced to think that all the training your Aunt 'Titia and I and your Aunt 'Senath have given you has gone for naught. To treat a guest in your own home the way you did Timothy! I was scandalised!! Simply scandalized! But I must say that Timothy behaved like a gentleman."
It was what Timothy would have termed "dirt mean" of Miss Eliza to add this extra chapter to the thorough scolding for the afternoon which she had given Arethusa such a short while before. But Timothy was Miss Eliza's most vulnerable spot; one of her few weaknesses.
"He always does," muttered Arethusa, "according to you. But you don't hear anything he says, he's too smart!"
"What's that?" Miss Eliza looked quite ready for battle.
"Nothing, Aunt 'Liza."
"There was something. You said something about Timothy, Arethusa, for I heard you ... again. That habit of yours of answering 'nothing,' when I ask you to repeat what you have said, is decidedly disrespectful."
Miss Eliza reached around for a copy of the Christian Observer which was lying on the sitting room table (the most secular reading she ever did were the stories and articles in its pages) and settled her shiny glasses firmly on the bridge of her nose. Then she drew the lamp nearer and turned it up just a trifle, preparing to enjoy a long discussion of the burning of Servetus which she had been saving for several weeks to read when she would have time to do so uninterrupted. It was signed "Calvinist," and Miss Eliza had the feeling that she was going to agree with every word of it.
Then as a parting shot, as she rattled the pages open:
"You must conduct yourself more like a lady with Timothy, Arethusa, or I'm very much afraid he won't want to marry you."
"Won't want to marry me!" Arethusa sprang hotly from her seat on the couch. "It's me that don't want to marry Timothy!"
"You do not know what you are saying," very coldly and decidedly from Miss Eliza. "Of course you want to. It is fitting in every way, most fitting. He is the right age, the families have known each other always, and the lands adjoin."
This with Miss Eliza was the clinching argument. The Jarvis Farm was on both sides of the Pike, but on one side it enclosed the Redfield Farm north and west and south, and went nearly to town. The "V" lot, especially, seemed to Miss Eliza to be in a position that made annexation desirable. The marriage of Timothy and Arethusa would make one Farm of the two, and straighten all those irregular boundaries. When so made, it would be by far the largest individual piece of property in the County. For to Arethusa, as the sole descendant of the Redfields, would go some day all the land of their owning, and to Timothy had already been left the home Farm of his grandfather, because of his name.
"I shall never marry Timothy," said Arethusa, "Never! If the land was plaited in and out, I never would!"
Miss Eliza put the Christian Observer down in her lap; her glasses slipped to the end of her nose.
"Oh, Sister, don't!"
Miss Letitia gazed distressfully from Miss Eliza to Arethusa, and then back to Miss Eliza again. Her round, good-natured little face was all drawn up and distorted with worry, just as it always was when war threatened, even remotely, between Miss Eliza and Arethusa. And these bouts concerning the girl's marriage to Timothy occurred so often without any advantage to either side.